Jack Teagarden

One of the most iconic jazz icons is undoubtedly Jack Teagarden’s trombone playing. Jack Teagarden’s trombone playing is a testament to his talent. Teagarden’s tromboning, an honest form of artistry, is often credited with advancing the instrument to the highest level of technical achievement among today’s modern musicians. He also has made a case for jazz’s lyrical quality for nearly 40 years of his professional playing. He once sang a blues song that testified to his Texas birth and Tennessee upbringing. Weldon Leo Teagarden was raised in Oklahoma and born in Texas. Vernon, Texas was his birthplace. The date was August 20, 1905. He moved to Oklahoma while still in his childhood. His mother taught him piano lessons and his father, who was a musician, gave Jack a trombone for Christmas. Over the years Jack has been playing jazz, his brothers, Clois and Trumpeter Charlie, have shared the stage with him. Jack spent a lot of time listening to music and singing hymns at Negro religious meetings as a young man. It is possible that he developed his first love for blues from this. When he was 16 years old, he joined the Peck Kelly Band. He hasn’t stopped being a part of the music scene ever since. He has performed with Paul Whiteman’s bigband, Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong’s All Stars recordings groups, Ben Pollock’s orchestra, as well as many other groups and orchestras under his leadership. He now leads his own band, which he traveled with to the Far East for U.S. State Department. Nothing —-can be said about this trip, both in terms of musical and personal rangs from each port. It spanned eighteen weeks, and visited as many countries as possible. There were many highlights. Jack and his crew jammed with King of Cambodia, who, as clarinetist, had played with Benny Goodman when Benny was visiting the area a few years ago. Teagarden also tuned the pianos available in Kabul, Afghanistan where the majority of Afghans had never seen brass instruments. It was difficult to play in adverse weather conditions and poor health. Teagarden fell ill in Japan and was very weak and sick upon his return from the tour. Teagarden was ill for six weeks, and refused surgery until all his commitments were fulfilled. It appears that he went to great lengths to fulfill what he said to almost interviewer: “I try and play what people like.” Teagarden is what most people seem to enjoy. JT and Barrett DeemsHe is as relaxed as his languid sentences and as sunny as his warm smile that cracks his face into scores upon merry wrinkles. His face is open and has character rather than boredom, weariness, or age. His voice oscillates between a heavy drawl or an outright yawn. His singing is funny and gutty and has a natural lazy sound. Jack was anything but lazy throughout his long career. Jack was known for his unwavering commitment to continuing his work after the band left the stage. He would also be available for any post-hours sessions. Teagarden and his gang visited Chicago for the Playboy Jazz Festival. They were there to promote the event, appear on radio interviews and TV shows, as well as to visit old friends playing in Chicago’s jazz venues. It’s no surprise that Jack and his friends often sat together. Teagarden is strangely uneasy without his trombone and at least a rhythm band to support him. Teagarden has had moments when he didn’t require a rhythm section. Jimmy McPartland recounted one such instance in his book Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya. This book tells the story of jazz through the words of musicians who have lived it. Pee Wee Russell and Bud Freeman were having a few drinks when Pee Wee started talking about the trombone player. It was the best thing he had ever heard. We said that we wanted to hear the man, and PeeWee replied, “Let’s just go over and get him.” Pee Wee returned with the man two drinks later. He was wearing a terrible looking cap and overcoat, and had a trombone case underneath his arm. “PeeWee introduced us. He was Jack Teagarden from Texas and he looked it. We said, “Fine.” “We’ve heard a lot about your music. I would love to hear you play. It was all done by himself, no accompaniment. He did it all solo and, trust me, he knocked everyone out. He was a master of the blues. He ended his performance and began to play the blues by himself. Pee Wee was right. We’d never seen anyone play the trombone as well. We were stunned.” Jack’s ability to play the trombone with fluency has been an ongoing amazement to everyone. Martin Williams, a jazz critic, recently published a solo Teagarden passage on a concert record that was made more than ten years ago. Williams was astonished at the creativity of the trombonist and also highlighted some of his extraordinary talent. This is the closest thing you will ever see Teagarden perform. Williams said that the “best introduction to Teagarden’s most brilliantly melodic” is a solo from Pennies from Heaven, which he performed with Louis Armstrong during a concert at New York City’s Town Hall (RCA Victor LPM 1443). It is a tune that we all know well (which is a help and one Teagarden assumes), but Jack only gets the first half of the tune for his performance. This is right after Armstrong’s vocal course. He must take something less than the original and make it complete, but not so much that his solo will sound like padding. Teagarden creates a beautiful melody on the spot. There are a few references to the classic tune but it is far superior in nearly every way. It’s also different from the original because it’s complete by itself and not a ‘half’. It is beautiful, and anyone who can respond to melody can listen and appreciate its beauty and originality. Jack Teagarden should be listened to for his melodic and lyric beauty. It is hard to believe that Teagarden is largely self-taught. Teagarden’s formal training was acquired through the job. His creativity is exceptional, both rhythmically and harmonically. Teagarden’s most beloved chorus is the one Jack plays on Jack Hits the Road. It was recorded by Columbia twenty years ago. Teagarden shows us what he can do with his instrument. Although it’s a simple blues chorus, it is very well constructed and is quite far out for its time. Jack’s effortless delivery of the chorus, as well as occasional disagreements in the melody, is still a marvel in the art of trombone playing. Teagarden spends most of his day playing his trombone and leading his group. However, he still finds time to be with his family — Addie and Joe — as well as his hobby of tinkering and puttering. Teagarden is a natural at working with mechanical things and enjoys spending a lot time in his workshop. Rarely does he open his trombone case without grabbing a few books on electronics or other mechanics. Teagarden has been in many movies and has performed on air and TV. He has also recorded thousands of sides. Basin Street Blues (he and Glenn Miller merged on the lyrics to the now-famous blues), Stars Fell on Alabama and Pennies From Heaven, Rockin’ Chair and I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues are just a few of the many songs that he owns. He didn’t write them, but he remembers as the singer whenever he hears these tunes. Jack received a medal for his meritorious contribution to the arts from the Cambodian jazz-loving, clarinet playing king. He has not yet received any medals in the country, but he has achieved a distinction in jazz that is shared only by a few other musicians. It’s in the favor jazz lovers from all schools. Jazz fans are known for their devotion to one particular jazz movement and ignoring all others. Fans of all schools have a limited number of favorites that are universally loved, with the exceptions being very few. Teagarden is one such exception. This alone is worth a lot of medals. He has also won legions upon legions of music fans through his playing and his relentless fight against the percent tax. This has prevented him from singing at many club events in the past decade. Placards he printed himself are placed on tables where he is a musician but not a singer. Placards encourage patrons to protest the tax that has cut the income of many entertainers and musicians. He says, “The tax is murder.” “It’s not just that I like singing, but people also come to me wanting to sing. It keeps me busy explaining why it doesn’t.” Teagarden’s sentimental side instantly warms an audience. This can be evident in songs, gracious acts onstage, introductions, and even song lyrics. Jack introduced Don Goldie, the young trumpet player in his group at the Playboy Jazz Festival. He also recalled that Goldie’s dad had been a Teagarden musician many years back. He had a real catch in his throat as he spoke of the elder Goldie. He hugged the younger Goldie with his arms and there was genuine affection. He is that type of person… real —- and unashamedly nostalgic. He shows it in his singing, his playing and even his daily life. If it were any other way, he wouldn’t be Jack Teagarden. from http://www.jackteagarden.info

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